Dale Earnhardt Sr. made only one start in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona on Feb. 3-4 2001, but it is one of the most memorable debuts in the storied history of this race. Three days before the 20th anniversary of Earnhardt’s start in a No. 3 Corvette, it was the No. 3 Corvette in Victory Lane with Jordan Taylor behind the wheel Sunday when the checkers waved.
After 23 years as a full-time driver in the NASCAR Cup series, Earnhardt had an opportunity to race in a four-driver team alongside his son Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was coming off a rookie season in Cup.
In the No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette, the Earnhardts finished second in class and fourth overall in the 2001 Rolex 24.
While Dale Earnhardt failed to score a win in the twice-around-the-clock classic that year, he had numerous other victories on this track, including an elusive Daytona 500 win in 1998 and multiple wins in qualification races, the Busch series and IROC competition on these hallowed grounds.
Two weeks after his Rolex 24 debut, Earnhardt lost his life on the last lap of the Daytona 500 as the team he owned finished first and second with Dale Jr. pushing Michael Waltrip to the finish line.
Dale Jr. hung up his driver’s suit in 2017 and moved into the NBC Sports broadcast booth. He was one of the lead analysts in the 2021 Rolex 24 coverage.
It did not go unnoticed just how strong Corvette Racing was for the entire race.
And according to Taylor, the car may have had an assist from the late Earnhardt.
“I think everyone’s a fan of Dale Sr. and Dale Jr.,” Taylor said after winning his third Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. “When I joined Corvette in 2012, I was in the No. 3 car. Obviously the No. 3 is so symbolic and so historic. Especially here at Daytona it is super special. Dale Sr. had unbelievable success here at Daytona.
“Today, we were making our passes on the high banks, so maybe we had a little bit of Dale Sr. in the car with us.”
Taylor is aware of how special racing families are.
As Taylor and co-driver Nicky Catsburg did their media availability from the garage instead of the Media Center – an action necessitated by the fact that Corvette Racing teammate Antonio Garcia tested positive for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) earlier that morning – thoughts of his father, Wayne Taylor, were in the front of his mind.
Minutes earlier, Wayne Taylor Racing secured their third consecutive Rolex 24 overall win.